South African Gold Miners Photography

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Zimbabweans risking it all for a better life

Exhausted and caked in mud, they plough wearily on, searching toxic water for traces of gold. Some look west from where they fled, across the border to Zimbabwe towards home. There, the life of miners are even harder. Here in Mozambique, at least, there are no soldiers standing over them with assault rifles.
Whole families have crossed the border to join the hunt for treasure. Zimbabwe has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. The discovery of gold can literally save lives. But the search destroys lives too. The diggers handle toxic mercury to extract gold from the red earth. They risk suffocation at the bottom of fragile mine shafts that collapse burying occupants all too often.

A few will find enough gold to change their lives, but most will not. Many will become ill and some will pay the ultimate price in their search for gold. Mining in South Africa has been the main driving force behind the history and development of Africa's most advanced and richest economy.

Large scale and profitable mining started with the discovery of a diamond on the banks of the Orange River in 1867 by Erasmus Jacobs and the subsequent discovery and exploitation of the Kimberley pipes a few years later. Gold rushes to Pilgrim's Rest and Barberton were precursors to the biggest discovery of all, the Main Reef/Main Reef Leader on Gerhardus Oosthuizen's farm Langlaagte, Portion C, in 1886, the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the subsequent rapid development of the gold field there, the biggest of them all.

Diamond and gold production may now be well down from their peaks, though South Africa is still no. 2 in gold but South Africa remains a cornucopia of mineral riches. It is the world's largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite. It is the second largest producer of ilmenite, palladium, rutile and zirconium. It is also the world's third largest coal exporter.

Source: South African Gold Miners Photography

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